Tuesday, June 7, 2016

NPP, its propaganda strategy and effects: What is the end game?

Iron-hot lies in politics can frustrate voters. In certain degree it can led to massive hatred for the individual or the group which engage in unrestrained perpetration of falsehoods. But for what it’s worth, politicians probably pay a steeper price for lying now than ever before. 

Hail to the internet and its bouquet of social media platforms which make information easier to be circulated within seconds and accessed within the same time frame without any hindrances from the traditional gate-keepers. It is an omnibus. Thus, the same internet which makes it easy for people to spread lies, in the inverse, also assists to correct them. Recent use of social media, especially the Facebook and Twitter by Ghanaian politicians and their supporters, as a political platform to engage in propaganda has shown that one may lie, but it will not last at all!

Last week, the social media was filled with serious and a chilling story about the arrest and questioning of Mr. Bernard Allotey-Jacobs, the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) chairman for Central region, at the London Heathrow airport over drug-related and money laundering crimes. The issue topped Ghana`s google trending graphics record, as both partisan and non-partisan publics became quite interested in the issue. 

The people who released this information on the social network platforms were clever propagandists! They concocted the story on early Sunday morning, stayed on it and defended it gallantly. They even went on an extent to force the British High Commissioner in Ghana to come out to issue statements to clarify the air. The NDC was also thrown into a state of turmoil as they struggled to find out from their reliable sources the authenticity of the alleged arrest and questioning of their party chairman. For the short while the propaganda achieved its potency. There was no news, and it actually filled the void (the political cravings) and gave the public some sort of “gossip” to chew on to fill the vacuum.

As all propaganda have a timeline for which it get whittled away into the oblivion they emerged from, the NDC quick response refuting the false information, as well as the clear-cut diplomatic statements from the British High Commissioner in Ghana, Mr. Jon Benjamin, denying the said occurrence  sounded early demise of the propaganda. In frustration about the sudden death of this wicked propaganda of character assassination peddled against the persons of Allotey-Jacobs (himself unashamed holder of propagandist pugilism in Ghanaian politics), Mr. Maxwell Kofi Jumah, former Kumasi mayor and Member of parliament for Asokwa thrown out his usual effusions of a frustrated politician with no sense of political maturity, by describing the British High Commissioner in Ghana as a “fool.” 

Strangely enough, the NDC as a political party known for their religious observance diabolical propaganda have so far not released any damning one against the NPP? The questions one may ask are: “when will NDC retaliate in kind? Who in NPP is going to be their target? Or with the presence of well-oiled and professional PR firms, including the British BTP firm, and allegedly Esther Cobbah`s Stratcom and Torgbor Mensah`s outfit running affairs for the NDC campaign and communications team, would they just ignore it?” I am asking these questions against the backdrop of the recent politically correct decisions of the NDC, which saw that party disowning and dissociating itself and the president from Abraham Amaliba and that buffoonery of a disgraced boxer, Bukom Banku (Braimah Kamoko) for insulting Justice Jones Dotse, the Supreme Court judge and portraying nude in video to engage in negative campaign for the NDC respectively. We live to see!

So who was behind this fabricated propaganda?

Cursory observations on the Facebook, and other social media platforms clearly shows that the Allotey-Jacob Heathrow arrest and questioning propaganda emanated from the stable of New Patriotic Party (NPP) communications team. All the people involved in the circulation were NPP die-hard supporters and sympathizers. Relying on their party intelligence, the NDC identified Mr. Hopeson Addoye, a die-hard and unashamed propagandist in the NPP as the main source of the propaganda. The allegation could be true because, Addoye never denied his culpability. The NPP as the intended beneficiary of Addoye`s slur watched on for the saga to unfold for sometimes, proving crystal to all and sundry that the party officially sanctioned the propaganda. It was only when the former Asokwa MP`s infantile attacks on Jon Benjamin and Britain, seemed to attract diplomatic furore and unfavorable relationship between the NPP and the Britain and or as well as the diplomatic community and international trade partners, that the party`s communications team came under pressure from the flagbearer`s office to issue statement to call on their communicators to desist from further attacks. It is a shame that NPP could not listen to its decent intelligentsia which also raise the red flag on party activists attacking Mr. Benjamin, until their interest with Britain that was on the verge of jeopardy made them to rescind their decisions.

These particular kinds of propaganda, was common in the 2012 electioneering campaign of the NPP. The party, especially its presidential candidate, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo having been under incessant attacks of NDC campaign team, also changed their tactics to engage in an uncontrolled propaganda games which came at a great cost to the party. Most of the propaganda emerged as nothing but complete lies. Thus the NPP which is known by the Ghanaian electorate as the most decent party became a nomenclature of NDC`s stature, which made it difficult for voters to negotiate any brand differentiation and make informed choice between the NPP and NDC. 

This brings me to the next questions, “why would NPP still engage in propaganda at this time when it did not favour the party in 2012? Who is running the heart of NPP`s communications and campaign and does he/she think NPP did well electorally with the adoption of political propaganda in 2012? Has the party learn any lessons that this election is quite different from the 2012 elections?

Lies, half-truths or political propaganda: Are they effective?

Political scientist, campaign strategist and political marketing researchers often ask two major questions when it comes to the deployment of propaganda or negative campaign in an elections. They often ask: “Is there any evidence of voter backlash against usage of propaganda/negative campaigning? Or do candidates persist in using propaganda/negative campaign tactics because they still work? Well, the conventional wisdom about the usage of political propaganda (lies and half-truths) as a tool in the negative political campaigning holds that it works, that is, it has the consequences its practitioners intend. Many observers also fear that it has unintended but detrimental effects on the political parties and their candidates themselves. In fact, research has shown that voters seem to be increasingly turned off by negative campaign ads, lies and propaganda in discourse and political mudslinging, but that has not deterred political candidates and their supporters from using these tactics. 

Even in United States, where democracy is touted as its safe haven, lying in politics is an acceptable norm. The claim flows from the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which says, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech,” and that applies to candidates for office especially. Though states have exclusive rights to enact laws to check candidates from peddling lies to hoodwink the electorates, but in the few states that have enacted laws against political lies or false political ads, they haven’t been very effective. But smearing your opponent with falsehoods during a campaign is actually banned in at least 17 states, although the laws are being challenged as an unconstitutional breach of the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech. Political office runners for the presidency, congressional, senatorial and gubernatorial elections have some sort of a legal right to lie to voters just about as much as they want. Thus, politicians in America will also continue to lie, just as it happens here in Ghana. Indeed, studies in the U.S have shown that politicians tell lies because they can and feels they must.  It is easy to lie, and repetition of lies works, and it forms an unavoidable part of human nature, especially in our social interaction. 

In practice, telling of lies and constant engagement of propaganda   has interesting outcomes. Voters’ tolerance for negative campaigns and political rhetoric depends on individual characteristics: Those with a strong party affiliation and a deep interest in the campaign tend to be more tolerant and their impressions of candidates are not deeply influenced by negativity. These voting segment are also unperturbed by messages presented in an uncivil manner, However, people who do not like uncivil and irrelevant discourse in negative communication are more responsive to listen to policy issues bordering on civil and decorous discussions. These discussions and positive messages in campaigns directly influence their assessments of the incumbents and challengers. Recent research conducted after 2012 elections, agreed with the one after 2008 elections that the older voters (senior citizens), and the elites abhors candidates and political parties who engages in telling lies or peddling propaganda and constantly mudslinging its opponents. This is where the utterances of notable NPP politicians and communicators becomes an electoral albatross on the party`s neck. The unpalatable and politically incorrect comments made by Mr. Kennedy Agyapong in 2008 and aftermaths, for example, has been cited by respondents in many academic research works as one of their reasons for not voting for NPP. In 2008, the constant attacks on the then unhealthy NDC presidential candidate, Professor John Atta Mills by the NPP gained him sympathy votes from the older voters (and their dependents) and the elites. If NPP manages Nana Addo well in such a manner that is akin to how Mills went about his campaign as a victim, NPP will likely win the older voters, in addition to the elites who are already favorably bankable in their electoral attractions. 

There is the gender aspect too. Men are more tolerant than women of negative content, while older respondents are less tolerant. It means men are more likely to be motivated to vote by a negative campaign message. However, in contests with the least amount of negative campaigning, mudslinging and propaganda, “women are slightly higher than men in terms of predicted probability of going to the polls.” Deborah Jordan in her classic work “Politics & Gender,” published in  2010 posits that comparing men’s and women’s reactions along these lines reveals further gender gaps: “Men are disproportionately mobilized by uncivil negativity as compared to women [and] women appear to be slightly more likely than men to vote after viewing civil negative messages.” She found out in her study that after viewing uncivil negative ads, only 9 per cent of men said they would definitely not vote, while 21 per cent of women said they would not. This should be useful pointers to NPP in the manner they will choose to handle their propaganda.

New directions   
Dynamic strategies are an essential part of politics. It should be a mixed bag of strategies, and all attempt must be made to ensure that the party`s credibility and image is not lost at the end of the day. A good political party is the one which exploits all available strategy to achieve its aims without losing its political identity and tradition in the eyes of the electorates. Thus, in the context of campaigns, for example, political parties and their candidates must continuously recalibrate their campaign strategy in response to polls and opponent actions. That is why it was unfortunate for the NPP to indulge in such a frivolous and shameless propaganda on Allotey-Jacobs. It added nothing to NPP`s electoral chances, but it succeeded to make the public aware that the NPP`s identity as refined tradition and liberals has shifted into an unrestrained propagandist entity.

What the NPP must do with their campaign is to observe what time and who to be used for their negative campaigns, and find a way to dissociate themselves from their own favoured  and loyal party leaders, and communicators who go on their own volition to engage in peddling of falsehood without the explicit sanctioning of the party. The rule of thumb for professional campaign consultants is: "Never, never use negative campaign tactics unless you have to." 

The truth is that a candidate or a party can run an impeccably positive and clean campaign and win by a comfortable margin much better off than to run negative one. But where it is necessary to use available damning truth or lies to undercut public support for one's opponent, all effort must be put in place to design strategy that completely obliterate the image of NPP`s opponent. As one political scientist said “A challenger hoping to unseat and incumbent must provide evidence that the positive images voters have of their opponents are inaccurate. It is generally not enough for a challenger to simply present a positive image of him or herself. In fact, if voters have equally positive feelings about both candidates, the incumbent is bound to win on election day because the incumbent is a more familiar and proven commodity.” 

It is my view that NPP ought to spend about 70 per cent of its time to spread the good works and plant positive image of Nana Akufo Addo in the minds of the electorates. It should form part of every campaign and communications strategy that the party designs. This is because, the longer an image of a candidate is maintained in the minds of voters, the more difficult it becomes to change that image.